Sir William Ramsay Defends the New Testament

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Sir William Mitchell Ramsay was a Scottish archaeologist and New Testament scholar. By his death in 1939 he had become the foremost authority of his day on the history of Asia Minor and a leading scholar in the study of the New Testament.

Sir William Michael Ramsay, an atheist and the son of atheists, tried to disprove the Bible. He was a wealthy person who had graduated from the prestigious University of Oxford. Like Albright, Ramsay studied under the famous liberal German historical school in the mid-nineteenth century. Esteemed for its scholarship, this school also taught that the New Testament was not a historical document. As an anti-Semitic move, this would totally eradicate the Nation of Israel from history.

With this premise, Ramsay devoted his whole life to archaeology and determined that he would disprove the Bible.

He set out for the Holy Land and decided to disprove the book of Acts. After 25 or more years (he had released book after book during this time), he was incredibly impressed by the accuracy of Luke in his writings finally declaring that ‘Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy’ . . . ‘this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians’ . . . ‘Luke’s history is unsurpassed in respect of its trustworthiness.’ he confessed: “It was gradually borne in upon me that in various details the narrative showed marvelous truth.”

When Ramsay wrote the above, an issue concerning Luke’s accuracy remained unsettled. It had to do with the closely related cities Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. Luke implied that Iconium was distinct from Lystra and Derbe, describing the latter as “cities of Lycaonia.” (Acts 14:6) Yet, as the accompanying map shows, Lystra was closer to Iconium than to Derbe. Some ancient historians described Iconium as a part of Lycaonia; hence, critics challenged Luke for not doing so also.

Then, in 1910, Ramsay discovered a monument in the ruins of Iconium showing that the language of that city was Phrygian and not Lycaonian. “Numbers of other inscriptions from Iconium and its environs substantiate the fact that racially the city could be described as Phrygian,” says Dr. Merrill Unger in his book Archaeology and the New Testament. Indeed, the Iconium of Paul’s day was Phrygian in culture and distinct from “the cities of Lycaonia,” where people spoke “in the Lycaonian tongue.”—Acts 14:6, 11.

Bible critics also questioned Luke’s use of the word “politarchs” for rulers of the city of Thessalonica. (Acts 17:6, footnote) This expression was unknown in Greek literature. Then an arch was found in the ancient city containing the names of city rulers described as “politarchs”—exactly the word used by Luke. “The accuracy of Luke has been vindicated by the use of the term,” explains W. E. Vine in his Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words.

Luke’s Sea Voyage

Naval experts have examined the details of the shipwreck described in Acts chapter 27. According to Luke, the large ship in which he and Paul sailed was caught in a northeasterly gale near the small island of Cauda, and the sailors were afraid of being driven onto perilous sandbanks off the north coast of Africa. (Acts 27:14, 17, footnote) By skillful seamanship, they managed to direct the vessel away from Africa on a westerly course. The gale continued unabated, and eventually the ship ran aground off the island of Malta, having covered a distance of about 540 miles [870 km]. Naval experts calculate that it would take a large ship sailing in a gale over 13 days to be driven that far. Their calculations agree with Luke’s account, which states that the shipwreck occurred on the 14th day. (Acts 27:27, 33, 39, 41) After investigating all the details of Luke’s sea voyage, yachtsman James Smith concluded: “It is a narrative of real events, written by one personally engaged in them . . . No man not a sailor could have written a narrative of a sea voyage so consistent in all its parts, unless from actual observation.”

Because of such findings, some theologians are willing to defend the Greek New Testament as accurate history. But what about the earlier history found in the Hebrew Scriptures? Many clergymen bow to modern philosophy and declare that it contains myths. However, a number of details of the Bible’s early history have also been verified, to the embarrassment of critics. Consider, for example, the discovery of the once-forgotten Assyrian Empire.

In 1895, W. M. Ramsay published his now classic book St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen, providing much valuable material showing the authenticity of the Christian Greek Scriptures. See the linked cover image to the left above.

PAUL AND LUKE ON TRIAL

Luke’s accuracy is demonstrated by the fact that he names key historical figures in the correct time sequence as well as correct titles to government officials in various areas: Thessalonica, politarchs; Ephesus, temple wardens; Cyprus, proconsul; and Malta, the first man of the island. The two books, the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, that Luke has authored remain accurate documents of history. Ramsay stated, “This author [Luke] should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.”

Finally, in one of his books, Ramsay shocked the entire intellectual world by declaring himself to be a Christian. Numerous other archaeologists have had similar experiences. Having set out to show the Bible false, they themselves have been proven false and, as a consequence, have accepted Christ as Lord.

In an outstanding academic career, Ramsay was honored with doctorates from nine universities and eventually knighted for his contributions to modern scholarship. Several of his works on New Testament history are considered classics. When confronted with the evidence of years of travel and study, Sir William Ramsay learned what many others before him and since had been forced to acknowledge: When we objectively examine the evidence for the Bible’s accuracy and veracity, the only conclusion we can reach is that the Bible is true.

William Michael Ramsay published another classic book, THE TRUSTWORTHINESS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT: The Significance of Recent Discoveries, providing much valuable material showing the authenticity of the Christian Greek Scriptures. See the linked cover image to the left above.

William M. Ramsay spent decades investigating the New Testament because he was initially a skeptic. However, in time he began to discover the honesty and accuracy of the authors, the truthfulness of the information, and the trustworthiness of the NT. In fact, Ramsay concluded: “Luke is a historian of the first rank: not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy, he is possessed of the true historic sense . . . This author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.” In Ramsay’s book Trustworthiness of the New Testament, he provides us with much valuable material showing that the NT is authentic and true. His book is a faith builder for us and an apologetic tool to share with skeptics and those who may have begun to doubt.

How to Interpret the Bible-1

Later Archaeologists Confirm Ramsay

New Testament

Higher Criticism

Archaeology Verifies the Bible

Luke 3:1

In Luke’s announcement of Jesus’ public ministry (Luke 3:1), he mentions, “Lysanius tetrarch of Abilene.”

Scholars questioned Luke’s credibility since the only Lysanius known for centuries was a ruler of Chalcis who ruled from 40-36 B.C.

However, an inscription dating to be in the time of Tiberius, who ruled from 14-37 A.D., was found recording a temple dedication which names Lysanius as the “tetrarch of Abila” near Damascus. This matches well with Luke’s account.

Acts 18:12-17

In Acts 18:12-17, Paul was brought before Gallio, the proconsul of Achaea.

 

At  Delphi an inscription of a letter from Emperor Claudius was discovered. In  it  he states,  “Lucius  Junios Gallio,  my  friend,  and the proconsul of Achaia . . .” 

Historians date the inscription to 52 A.D., which corresponds to the time of the apostle’s stay in 51.

Acts 19:22 and
Romans 16:23

In Acts 19:22 and Romans 16:23, Erastus, a coworker of Paul, is named the Corinthian city treasurer.

 

Archaeologists excavating a Corinthian theatre in 1928 discovered an inscription. It reads, “Erastus in return for his aedilship laid the pavement at his own expense.”

 The pavement was laid in 50 A.D. The designation of treasurer describes the work of a Corinthian aedile.

Acts 28:7

 In Acts 28:7, Luke gives Plubius, the chief man on the island of Malta, the title, “first man of the island.”

Scholars questioned this strange title and deemed it unhistorical.

Inscriptions have recently been discovered on the island that indeed gives Plubius the title of “first man.”

Young Christians

In all, Luke names thirty-two countries, fifty-four cities, and nine islands without error.

A.N. Sherwin-White states, “For Acts the confirmation of historicity is overwhelming. . . . Any attempt to reject its basic historicity must now appear absurd. Roman historians have long taken it for granted.”

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